Baking your own Sheepherder’s Bread

My wife’s grandmother’s cookbook had this clipping from a newspaper, probably from Salmon, Idaho. Anyone know roughly when this would be? There was no date in the saved clipping.

Baking your own Sheepherder’s Bread

Many Basques still enjoy baking the dome-shaped loaves of sheepherder’s bread at home, like Anita Mitchell. She gave us her recipe that won the bread-baking championship at the National Basque Festival last year. Her updated method for baking in a conventional oven is more reliable than the old way of baking in a pit that you see at right (picture not included).

You’ll need a 10-inch cast iron or cast aluminum covered Dutch oven (5-quart size); for pit-baking, it should have a bale (wire handle) and be well seasoned.

Sheepherder’s Bread

  • 3 cups very hot tap water
  • 1/2 cup butter, margarine, or shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • About 9 1/2 cups all purpose flour, unsifted
  • Salad oil

In a bowl, combine the hot water, butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until butter melts; let cool to warm (110 to 115 degrees). Stir in yeast, cover, and set in a warm place until bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Add 5 cups of the flour and beat with a heavy-duty mixer or wooden spoon to form a thick batter. With a spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 3 1/2 cups) to form a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. Turn dough over in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and knead on a floured board to form a smooth ball. Cut a circle of foil to cover the bottom of the Dutch oven. Grease the inside of the Dutch oven and the underside of the lid with salad oil.

Place dough in the pot and cover with the lid. Let rise in a warm place until dough pushes up the lid by about 1/2 inch, about 1 hour (watch closely).

Bake, covered with lid, in a 375 degree oven for 12 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from oven and turn loaf out (you’ll need a helper) onto a rack to cool. Makes 1 very large loaf.

A poignant camp custom: Before serving, a herder would slash the sigh of the cross on top of the loaf, then serve the first piece to his invaluable dog.


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